Witness account by a Correspondent for The Times
The Times, Monday, June 2, 1845
Ardgay, near Tain Rosshire, May 27
I returned to this place for the purpose of witnessing the sequel of the clearance of the poor highlanders, out of GlenCalvie, an account of which I sent you some days ago. It will be remembered that 18 poor cottiers living in GlenCalvie, near here, the legal process of turning them out of their homes having been completed, gave bond peaceably to leave on the 24th, after which the value of their stock was to be given to them, and they might go where they listed. It will also be remembered that these 18 families, consisting of 92 individuals, supported themselves in comparative comfort without a pauper amongst them; that the owed no rent and were ready to pay as much as anyone would give for their land, which they and their forefathers had occupied for centuries, but which is seems is now to be turned into a sheep-walk.
Were any such clearance attempted in England, I leave you to conceive the excitement which it would be certain to create – the mob processions, the effigy burnings, and the window smashings, with which every instigator and instrument in so heartless a scene would be reminded that there are principles of action which are thought more honourable, more worthy, and which make living amongst our fellows more pleasant, than mere money-grubbing.
These poor highlanders however, apart from their naturally mild and passive nature, have been so broken in spirit by many such scenes, that not a murmur, not a remonstrance, escaped them in the completion of this most heartless wholesale ejectment.
I drove over on Sunday to the parish church of Croick, which is near Glen Calvie. Close by a bridge leading to the glen the whole of these poor people, and the inhabitants of one or two neighbouring straths, were assembled to hear one of their elders read the Psalms to them. They numbered about 250 persons. They were all seated in the Gaelic fashion, on the hillside, in a circle facing the officiating elder; the women all neatly dressed in net cape, and wearing scarlet or plaid shawls; the men wearing their blue bonnets, and having their shepherd’s plaids wrapped round them. This was their only covering, and this was the Free Church. There was a simplicity extremely touching in this group on the bare hill side, listening to the psalms of David in their native tongue, and assembled to worship God – many of them without a home.
I drove on, and went to the Established Church. The service was partly in Gaelic and partly in English, but the congregation was miserably thin. There were but 10 persons besides the minister in the church. Behind the church, in the churchyard, a long kind of booth was erected, the roof formed of tarpawling stretched over poles, the sides closed in with horsecloths, rugs, blankets and plaids. On enquiry I found out that this was the refuge of the Glen Calvie people. They had kept their word, and saved their bondsmen. The old pensioner of 82 years of age, whom I mentioned in my last account, had special permission to remain in the glen, it being believed that his removal would kill him. Another family also, engaged on the Duke of Sutherland’s fisheries, had permission to continue occupants of their cottage. With these exceptions the whole of the people left the glen on Saturday afternoon, about 80 in number, and took refuge in this tent erected in their churchyard. Their furniture, expecting their bedding, they got distributed amongst the cottages of their neighbours’ and, with their bedding and their children, they all removed late on Saturday afternoon to this place of temporary shelter. In my last letter I informed you that they had been round to every heritor and factor in the neighbourhood, and 12 out of the 18 families had been unable to find places of shelter.
With the new Scottish Poor Law in prospect, cottages were everywhere refused to them. I am told it was a most wretched spectacle to see these poor people march out of the glen in a body, with two or three carts filled with children, many of them mere infants; and other carts containing their bedding and other requisites. The whole country side was up on the hills watching them as they silently took possession of their tent.
A fire was kindled in the churchyard, round which the poor children clustered. Two cradles, with infants in them, were placed close to the fire, and sheltered round by the dejected looking mothers. Others busied themselves in dividing the tent into compartments, by means of blankets, for the different families. Contrasted with the gloomy dejection of the grown-up and the aged was the, perhaps not less melancholy picture of the poor children thoughtlessly playing round the fire, pleased with the novelty all around them. Of the 80 people who passed the night in the churchyard with most insufficient shelter, 23 were children under 10 years of age, 7 persons were sickly and in bad health, and 10 are about 60 years of age; about 8 are young married men. There area few grown-up children, and the rest are persons in middle life, from 40 to 50 years of age. They are still remaining there.
Yesterday was the day appointed for settling with them, according to the arrangement previously made, and for paying them the value of their stock. The young men walked over to Ardgay for the purpose of receiving it, where they were met by Mr. M’Kenzie writer, of Tain the law agent employed to settle with them. This painful duty, so far as this gentleman was concerned, was executed with much kindness and consideration for the poor people. Amongst the dozen men and women that I saw, there was not the least noise or disturbance; and cruel as was their position, not a murmur escaped them. Each family had on average about 18/. to receive, as the appraised value of their stock, and as their distributive share of £72.95 10s., agreed to be given to them to emigrate on going out peaceably. To go out however, the people were compelled under any circumstances.
The sum they had to receive is sufficient evidence that they were respectably supporting themselves, this sum however, will soon be spent, and the search for places of employment in the south, it is a moral certainty that most of these unskilled men and their families will be reduced to pauperism. This is the benefit the country derives from such proprietors and factors as have owned and managed this glen. This cruel and unfeeling act is, however now completed. When the men had settled with the law agent last night, they sent word to me that they wished to bid me good-bye. Great as have been your exertions in the cause of the poor and friendless, and large as are the sums which for years you have expended in advocating their cause, that meeting was more than repayment for all. As representing here your great establishment, the poor people crowded round me, and held out their hard, labour worn hands to shake hands with me as their friend, who had spoken for them. Their Gaelic I could not understand, but their eyes beamed with gratitude. This unbought, spontaneous and grateful expression of feeling to you for being their friend is what their natural protector – their chieftain – never saw, and what his factor need never hope for.